Two more weekends of NFL football, just like that. Felt like yesterday when we were exploring new and unusual quarterback options for the Browns and crafting funny fantasy football team names for your fantasy pleasure. Now, we focus on the championship game push and the endless excitement.
After wins by only home teams in the first six games of this postseason, the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers finally gave us the game fans wanted – an away-team upset with momentum shifts, improbable throws and catches, and the always expected game-winning, time-expiring 51-yard field goal. This weekend’s games, we hope, will pick up the baton right where it was dropped.
We’ve expected this annually given playoff run by the Bill Belichick-led Pats, since they won in shutout fashion with their third-string quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, at the helm in Week 3. Even though they struggled to an 18-point victory over the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round, this is a team that’s advanced to the NFL Final Four 11 times in Brady’s 15 seasons (except for 2008, when he tore his ACL in the opener). Expect Tommy Boy to pad that resume just a wee bit more.
Let’s take a look at the Final Four matchups two weeks ahead of Super Bowl LI.
We saved you a seat, Cowboys fans.. pic.twitter.com/QYJqdaBWth
— Giants Daily (@NYGDaily) January 16, 2017
NFC Championship Game: Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (3:05 p.m. ET)
Sunday’s NFC Championship Game offers the highest-totaled (60.5) NFL playoff game of all time. A rematch of Week 8’s shootout – won by the Falcons 33-32 in the final seconds – that saw Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers throw the entire defense at Julio Jones and Matt Ryan shred the inner seam with running back dumps and tight end streaks, the Atlanta-hosted 3:05 PM ET Game should beat out Steelers-Patriots for show of the weekend. Aaron Rodgers vs. Matt Ryan – one (40) and two (38) in touchdown passes, respectively. What could be better than another defenseless shootout?
Add intrigue to an already curious battle, the Packers might remember Week 8’s loss as the start of a four-game losing streak that sent Green Bay into the NFL basement. That was until they ran the table and won eight straight games, with Rodgers throwing just one interception since Nov. 20. Now that Jordy Nelson is expected to play with fractured ribs and a “military-grade kevlar padding” to protect them, we can expect Rodgers to be chucking the pigskin with little regard for mankind.
Prediction: Falcons 38, Packers 33
AFC Championship Game: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots (6:40 p.m. ET)
If we look back on Week 7, when the Patriots handily beat the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger was hurt, Landry Jones was starting, Rob Gronkowski was playing, and the Steelers still kind of moved the ball (375 net yards) in a game that mostly featured LeGarrette Blount boringly yet efficiently running for 127 yards and two scores.
A battle that features the 14-2 New England Patriots against the 11-5 Pittsburgh Steelers in Foxboro in which the Patriots are favored by six points, this is perhaps more significantly a rematch of the 2004 AFC Championship Game – when Roethlisberger, a rookie at the time, got spanked by the Patriots 41-27 at Heinz Field. Roethlisberger would win the title the next season and another in 2008, but that ’04 bout kept Tom Brady in the championship lead. Roethlisberger’s only win in Foxboro came in ’08, when Matt Cassel was starting for a torn-ACLed Brady.
It’s also worth noting that Big Ben was unable to drive the Steelers into the end zone last weekend against the Chiefs – which thankfully for Pittsburgh didn’t prevent the ultimate victory. Time will tell if the Pats can capitalize on a potentially stalled offense. Maybe we’ll even get another hilarious exchange between Julian Edelman and referee.